Watering is one of those things that is a bit misunderstood.
As you stroll through your neighborhood in the spring and summer, you are likely to spot well-intentioned people staring blankly ahead, pointing a spray nozzle straight at their plants and hitting them with a full, deafening blast of water. Or, the sprinkler on the front lawn is also watering the sidewalk and unsuspecting terriers and pedestrians.
Inside, these people are thinking, man, watering stinks. I hate gardening. My flip-flops are soaked.
For some good information on watering your lawn, trees, and shrubs with less time, expense, and runoff, check out this handy guide: Smart Watering.
As far as the vegetable garden goes, we are here to help take the mystery out of watering with a handy device we use here at Headquarters:
The soaker hose:
The soaker hose is a form of drip irrigation. The hose is punctured with small holes that allow water to drip through it. When the water is turned on, the hose looks like it is weeping, or perhaps sweating.
Soaker hoses wind through the garden, placed about 12 to 18 inches apart.
What’s so great about a soaker hose?
Laying a soaker hose next to the base of your plants delivers water straight to the plant roots - right where you want it.
No more moving hoses.
No more standing there spraying plants and thinking about what else you could be doing.
You save money. Soaker hoses use much less water and deliver water more efficiently than sprinklers or the “point and shoot” method. So you get a lower water bill in summer when water rates are the highest.
You have healthier plants. Watering at the root level instead of from the top cuts down on moldy leaf diseases.
Soaker hoses are a recycled product. Now you can water and be a do-gooder at the same time.
You can buy soaker hoses at hardware stores, nurseries, and the like, or if you’re really lucky you can find them cheap or free on Craigslist or at garage sales.
They come in various lengths - 25 feet, 50 feet, 75 feet, 100 feet. You can buy adapters, gaskets, timers, and other gadgets to go along with them, so if you end up with one that has a leaky section or one that is too long, you can fix it right up. (Tip: we used a 50 foot hose in the Grow It Yourself garden, which is 13 feet long and about 6 feet wide and packed full of plants.)
Soaker hoses emit enough water to soak about 6 to 9 inches of ground on either side of it, so lay your hoses 12 to 18 inches apart.
Keep the hose at least 1 to 2 inches away from the base of plants.
These hoses have an open end at one end to attach to the garden hose…
…and a cap at the other end.
You can extend the length of your hose by unscrewing the end cap and attaching another soaker hose to it. Keep in mind, though, that you shouldn’t have a hose longer than 100 feet - at this length the water pressure gets pretty weak and it won’t emit as much water as the plants need.
How to install a soaker hose
Now, the plants are getting pretty tall and bushy, so this is a little late in the game to be installing a soaker hose in the garden, but sometimes you just have to do the best you can.
Warning: You are going to get wet and a little dirty, so ready yourself.
1. Unroll the hose and spread it out nice and long.
You will be inspecting the hose for leaks and to see that it works properly. Also, getting it a bit wet makes it much easier to carry and control. When these hoses are dry they tend to be unwieldy, flying about and crashing into plants, houseguests, and your own head.
2. Attach the soaker hose to your garden hose…
…turn on the tap, and wait for the entire hose to begin seeping. You do not want it to be spraying, straining, and making a sound that makes you think, “Is it supposed to sound like that?” With decent water pressure, you shouldn’t have to turn on the tap very far at all.
3. Gather up some sticks of some sort. As you lay the hose, it is helpful to put some sticks in the ground to help guide and secure the hose and keep it away from the plants. There is a risk of plant crush here, and you need to be careful.
4. If you have a helper, go collect them now.
Friendly advice: If you do not work well together on projects requiring patience and cheerful, collaborative problem-solving, maybe pick someone else. Or, just do it yourself (recommended).
Also keep in mind that this is only a job for the most precise and even-tempered of children.
Copyright Smart Family System
5. Consider your terrain. If your garden is on a slope, plan to lay the hose in a way that minimizes uphill travel for the water - instead of it going straight up, then down, try laying it across the slope.
6. You want to be able to attach your garden hose to the soaker hose in a convenient spot - at the edge of the garden and probably in a spot closest to the tap. So figure out where you want the hose to end. Probably the easiest thing to do is attach the soaker hose to the garden hose at the beginning, lay the end point where you want it, and then lay the rest of the hose.
Note: We have found that soaker hoses do not work particularly well with potatoes, since they are hilled up with soil and it takes a long time for water to penetrate through to the roots. We water those separately with the garden hose, so we skipped the potato section.
Potatoes in foreground
Secure the end you are starting with. A heavy object keeps it from getting pulled around and ending up where you don’t want it to be.
Starting at the edge of the bed, carefully lay your hose in between rows and next to plants, staying at least 1 to 2 inches away from the base of the plants. Secure the hose with sticks as you go.
Keep winding it through the garden, spacing the hose about 12 to 18 inches apart.
When you are satisfied that the hose is laid out evenly and that all of your plants are going to get a drink, attach the garden hose and turn on the tap to test it out.
We ended up with a bit of overlap, but ah well.
Life isn’t perfect
And neither are soaker hoses. The hose can degrade if it is bent or exposed to the sun and the elements for long periods of time. This can cause the hose to spring a leak, creating a fountain effect whereby it sprays your plants with abandon instead of dripping calmly. If you have a new hose you should be ok, but our second-hand one needed some work.
Tomatoes are particularly sensitive about getting their leaves sprayed - they can develop leaf diseases if sprayed day in and day out, so check to make sure they are not getting hit.
If your hose has some leaks, just mound up some soil on top. This is usually enough to smother the leaks but still let water through.
Sometimes, a few strategically located leaks can be a good thing: if the hose doesn’t quite reach a plant, it might spray in its general direction and give the plant the water it needs.
This hose had a few leaks next to the lettuce, but I just left them alone because lettuce likes a little top watering.
As with most things in life, you need to take care of your stuff. To keep the hose in fine working order, keep a layer of mulch over it through the season. At the end of the season, remove it from your garden, carefully wind it up - lasso style - and hang it in the garage.
How long and how often do I need to water?
This will take a bit of testing and will depend on the weather and the type of soil you have, but try watering for 20 or 30 minutes once every 2 or 3 days. In really, really hot weather you might have to water every day.
To check to see if your plants are getting enough water, carefully dig down next to the plant into the root area. If it is moist, they’re good. If it’s dry, water.
Up next: Hilling and watering potatoes